50-50 Challenge: Colombia vs. Uruguay
Colombia dazzled their way through Group C and now face CONMEBOL rivals Uruguay for a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Our ESPNFC bloggers Carl Worswick (Colombia) and Felipe Miguel (Uruguay) preview the round of 16 tie.
Form and fitness
Carl Worswick: Colombia go into this game riding on cloud nine after sailing through the group stage with maximum points. So comfortable was Colombia's passage through to the knockouts that coach Jose Pekerman made eight changes to his starting line-up for their last game against Japan. That meant key players like 38-year-old captain Mario Yepes got a rest, while fringe squad members were handed a chance to shine. Even Carlos Carbonero, who had never previously played under Pekerman, came on and impressed in the 4-1 win. Despite the nice competition, though, the Argentine coach is expected to largely revert back to the XI he used against Greece and Ivory Coast. Unlike their rivals, Colombia are fresh and focused side and have plenty of options available from the bench.
Felipe Miguel: Uruguay had a major setback on Thursday when FIFA announced that star player Luis Suarez was banned from the World Cup. Taking that into consideration, La Celeste will need to show a renewed face against Colombia. Injuries haven't been an issue so far, with only Diego Lugano having a knee problem. Luckily for head coach Oscar Tabarez, Jose Maria Gimenez took his spot and did great. After a terrible performance in their debut against Costa Rica, Uruguay improved their game versus England and Italy, setting up a strong defensive system based on pressure up field, defensive midfielders in constant movement to prevent the rival's play creation and their usual quick counter-attacks. Versus Jose Pekerman's side, this is most likely going to repeat. To replace Suarez, Tabarez will probably introduce a fifth midfielder that helps the team's balance against such offensive rivals. Walter Gargano joining Egidio Arevalo Rios wouldn't be a surprise, but Christian Stuani could make the starting eleven if Tabarez opts for a more attacking side.
World Cup history
CW: These countries have faced each other once before at the World Cup in Colombia's debut appearance at the finals back in 1962. Nobody expected anything of coach Adolfo Pedernera's side back then, but Colombia held their own against their more illustrious rivals before falling to a 2-1 defeat. More recently, though, the countries met twice during the CONMEBOL qualifiers. Both countries won their respective home games with Uruguay coming out on top the last time these two sides played in Montevideo back in September 2013. Colombia were perhaps the better side that day but late strikes from Edison Cavani and Christian Stuani edged La Celeste to three points and slightly atoned for the 4-0 thrashing Colombia had dished out previously in Barranquilla.
FM: These teams have only faced each other once in the World Cup. It was in 1962, when Uruguay won 2-1 with Sasia and Cubilla scoring for the victory and Zuluaga doing so for the Colombian team, in what was Colombia's World Cup debut. Apart from that, they have played, in total, 38 games with Uruguay taking 18 of them and 11 for Colombia, with nine draws. The last match they played was the crucial victory for Uruguay in the South American World Cup qualifiers, where La Celeste won 2-0. Previous to that, Colombia humiliated Uruguay in Barranquilla 4-0 in an August 2012 World Cup qualifier. The biggest detail about that match is that Suarez couldn't play either, because he was suspended.
CW: The head-to-head between Jose Pekerman and Oscar Tabarez, two of the finest and most tactically astute coaches at this year's World Cup, will be fascinating. Both have played big roles in the success of their respective sides by investing in long-term projects on the back of strong youth policies. Both have also worked steadily to build a strong team identity and build squad harmony. Tabarez shifted to a 3-5-2 formation in the team's last game against Italy as a reaction to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's decision to also play three at the back, but how the Uruguayan coach now tackles Colombia's incisive and penetrative counter attacks could be one of the game's most interesting battlegrounds.
FM: Egidio Arevalo Rios vs. James Rodriguez. The highly regarded young midfielder from AS Monaco has been excelling in this World Cup. Ever since he made his first major foray into football -- when he starred at Argentinian side Banfield -- Rodriguez has always showed massive potential and that he had a certain future in European football. His ability to create goal opportunities for his teammates has impressed in the tournament so Arevalo Rios will need to be all over him to stop him. Certainly, Arevalo Rios won't be able to mark the three attacking midfielders by himself so Alvaro Gonzalez and Cristian Rodriguez need to be as defensive as they can. If Arevalo Rios can control Rodriguez, Colombia would have to turn their game over to the flanks and turn to high crosses which won't benefit the team since Teofilo Gutierrez is not very tall.
Why does your side deserve to progress?
CW: There's not a lot to dislike about this Colombia side who have entertained both on and off their pitch. Outstanding performances from James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado have so far swept Colombia to nine goals and three consecutive victories, but even from the stands the Tricolor fans have been one of the tournament's most joyous, passionate and infectious travelling supports. Boosted by the team's colourful goal celebrations, the team have won over many neutral fan with their dazzling attacking performances. After 16 years without a World Cup appearance, Colombia are here to enjoy and savour this experience.
FM: Uruguay has been covering World Cup headlines even since before the tournament started with Suarez's injury. After that, they defeated England and Italy, two of the best teams in the world and went through in Group D, considered one of the more difficult groups. You don't get to see that in every World Cup. Now, with the ban placed on Suarez, Uruguayans are hoping that a victory on the pitch will give them back the joy that was taken away with the decision by FIFA. Uruguay should go through because the whole country is expecting to face Brazil to repeat the 1950 final game. Taking England and Italy -- two former champions -- out of the tournament has been a massive landmark for La Celeste while Colombia faced weaker rivals like Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece. But most important, this Uruguayan squad that has achieved so many things that they deserve one final feat, one final act of immortality, one more epic triumph.
CW: Colombia 2, Uruguay 0. There's no hiding the fact that Suarez's loss has tilted the tie in Colombia's favour, but even with their talismanic forward Uruguay would have found Pekerman's side too strong. Colombia's strength of attacking options is staggering and with Rodriguez and Cuadrado in blistering form they should be good to coast to a historic spot in the quarterfinals.
FM: Colombia 2, Uruguay 1. Colombia's attack might just be too overwhelming for Tabarez's side. Uruguayans must make a perfect match to get something out of it.